Narcissism Kills Morale

If we're not careful, oversight can turn into narcissism. So how can leaders avoid narcissism and their team's morale alive? Here are a few suggestions.

Narcissism Kills Morale Humility Saves It

“To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Rock Concert or Business Conference?

The scene resembled a large rock concert. There was a massive stage, huge projection screens, a booming sound system, laser lights and special effects that would make Broadway jealous. To say there was a great deal of excitement and anticipation for the presenter would be a major understatement. His name was announced, the music boomed and onto stage strode the classic image of a powerful, confident executive. Navy suit with pin stripes, tall, slender, salt-and-peppered hair, power tie and polished shoes. The audience’s applause roared. He walked to the podium, the music faded, applause stopped and the stadium settled to perfect silence in anticipation…

Narcissism Defined

“How’s everybody doing today?!” The keynote speaker began, with excitement in his voice. “Wow, what a year it’s been!  Since last year’s conference, a lot has changed. For example, I reorganized our division and product lines into….” he continued into details of how he, apparently personally, completed some organizational and product line restructuring. Then he continued, “in addition I introduced 12 new products, including some of the hottest new items on the market, such as…” he described a number of top selling products. “And what about services? Well, I introduced the following new service lines…”. Then, he launched into series a corporate acquisitions, “I purchased….”, “I merged…”, I… I… I…


Within the first 5 minutes of his presentation, all the excitement turned into disbelief at the narcissism displayed by this executive. Really?! Did they really just send that massive of an ego-maniac onto the stage?! This guy specifically said he did all these things – not once did I hear him mention the contributions of another individual or his team.

If you were a member of his organization, how would you have felt? I am sure his team put in a lot of hard work and many late nights. Without these contributions, many of “his” successes would never have come to fruition. If I worked for him, I think my resume would have hit the job boards the next day.


His Narcissism, Our Lesson

Confronted with his narcissism, the executive would likely brush it off as an oversight on his part. He would likely reassure anyone inquiring, “of course I meant the team did all this” and follow up with a commitment to be more clear in the future. But how many stadium-sized opportunities does one get? These platforms are rare. The damage was done.

I hope your narcissism does not compare. Still, if we’re not careful, our own oversight can turn into narcissism. At the very least, oversight can easily kill the morale of our own teams. So how can leaders avoid narcissism and keep their team’s morale alive? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Thank someone every day: If not one, then two, three or twenty. Always be sure you reflect your gratitude.

2. Thank publicly: Most people appreciate public recognition. Given the opportunity, share your platform.

3. Document Credit: When creating communications, especially those for distribution, credit those that contributed.

4. Accountable, not Responsible: Toxic leaders tend to confuse accountability for responsibility. Remember, just because you’re accountable does not mean you are responsible for the success.

5. Serve First: Remember your role as a leader is to serve the team first, not for the team to serve you.

Question: What other ways do you or your leaders avoid narcissism and maintain humility?


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

7 thoughts on “Narcissism Kills Morale”

  1. Pingback: The Toxic Leader and Pornography

    1. Thank you for the compliment. Those with first hand experience in these environments tend to know just how bad it can get.

      Benjamin S. Lichtenwalner

      Twitter: BLichtenwalner

  2. Pingback: Strengthen Your Leader’s Weakness

  3. Pingback: Speedboat or Sailboat Leadership: Which Do You Practice?

  4. Pingback: If You Seek Prestige, Please Don't Try To Lead...

  5. To be humble to superiors is duty; to equals, is courtesy; to inferiors, is nobleness; and to all, safety: it being a virtue that, for all her lowliness, commandeth those souls it stoops to.
    Sir Thomas More.

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